It is a very strange time to be a Sixers fan. Especially if you’ve been following the team for the last five or so years. Every bone in your body is telling y-… sorry, bad example. Let’s not mention bones. Every ounce of your being is telling you this is it, the moment you’ve waited for through the tough times, the moment when years of being crappy and watching grainy cell phone footage of inactive players playing one-on-one against 5’8 trainers in an empty gym will feel like buying in early on a hot stock instead of just torturing yourself. Things are, relatively speaking, pretty great.
You should feel pretty great.
And you do, for the most part. It’s all very exciting. The team has the last two number one picks making their debut at positions of need. Dario Saric probably should have been Rookie of the Year and he’s now the sixth man. Joel Embiid came back after half a year off and promptly looked like the two-part-potential-superstar, one-part-pre-Hollywood-People’s-Champ The Rock burgeoning superstar he did in limited action last season. It’s good. It’s beyond good. Again, it is great. Everything is great.
But, like, what if it isn’t?
And that, as they say, is the rub. The unknown of it all. Every team in every sport deals with it to some degree heading into a new season, when everyone in the league is 0-0 and technically still has the same chance of winning a title. But the swings in potential outcomes for the Sixers this season are ridiculously extreme. So much can go right, and the pieces are in place for it to happen, finally. But so very much can go wrong, too.
Thinking about the team too much is like having a tiny angel and devil on your shoulder, full-time.
ANGEL: Joel Embiid is a monster. His per-36 numbers are insane and he still only has 31 professional games under his belt. He played two preseason games this year, one in which he put up 22 and 7 in about 15 minutes, the other in which he drew three fouls on Hassan Whiteside in five minutes and then went online after the game and called him “extremely ass.” He has personality and talent out his presumably giant wazoo and could be the kind of legitimate superstar the city and league can rally behind. Also, he’s 7’2 with this kind of range.
DEVIL: What if his legs fall off?
DEVIL: It could happen.
ANGEL: I… don’t think it can.
DEVIL: You don’t know that.
ANGEL: Okay… but… but Ben Simmons! We have a 6’9 point guard who can zip no-look passes around the court like a young Magic, and he’s just getting started too after a year off to rehab an injury. If he taps even 80 percent of his potential he could be a perennial All-Star and an absolute nightmare in a pick and roll with Embiid. Hell, our 7’2 threw a post entry pass to our 6’9 point guard this preseason. That’s just fun.
DEVIL: Can’t shoot. Actually, no one knows if he can shoot, because he won’t even try. Teams are going to sag off him and clog the lane and make Embiid’s life hell.
ANGEL: But Markelle Fultz! The team is rolling out a backcourt made-up of the last two number one overall picks and they appear to fit together perfectly: one a tall open-court wizard and the other a slashing combo guard who shot 40 percent from three in college. Combine the two of them with Embiid, free agent gunner J.J. Redick and Process-era gold strike Robert Covington and you have a lineup that can shoot, pass, and defend with any team in the league. That’s a huge step forward from where they were even last year.
DEVIL: Yeah, but what’s up with Fultz’s shooting form.
ANGEL: He overhauled it by himself over the summer.
ANGEL: He says his shoulder is sore.
DEVIL: Well that’s not great.
ANGEL: Yeah, not really.
It’s all really quite a lot, and a teeny, tiny part of me almost misses the awful teams of the last few years when I think about it too much. There were no expectations with those guys. There was no pressure. The only national press the team got was blowhard-types chiming in to shout about how awful the whole thing was, which kind of made me love the team more. Sure, the basketball was bad most of the time, but every now and then they’d, like, jump out to a 15-point lead against the LeBron-Wade-Bosh Heat team and you would just be giddy with chaotic glee. There was something charming about that, in a way.
And in hindsight, as a diehard Process Truster, I think it’s safe to say we all went a little insane about it all. I found myself legitimately missing Hollis Thompson a week or two ago. Like I said, it’s a weird time to be a Sixers fan.
But it’s mostly just good. It’s been a long time since the team went into the season with anything resembling hope. Now it’s there in buckets. A lot could go wrong, obviously, as we’ve discussed (and please do go back and re-read that Angel-Devil while picturing both of them as cherubic little Sam Hinkies), but it hasn’t yet.
Things look as good as they’ve looked for the team since… I actually don’t know when. Early Iverson? I know that’s a high bar but did you see the video of Embiid jogging through the city at night in his game shorts? God, I love that guy. There’s an electricity to him, and the team, and all of it that is just so fun. This season is going to be such a blast.
But also terrifying.
But mostly a blast.